Asmussen | Dosunmu best served to hold off on NBA dreams, stay at Illinois

Asmussen | Dosunmu best served to hold off on NBA dreams, stay at Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — Was Thursday night's loss to Indiana the final Illinois home game for Ayo Dosunmu?

Doubt it. The folks who rank NBA prospects think the guard needs another year in college.

Relax, Illinois fans. Count on the important people in Dosunmu's life to offer solid advice. And realize that coming back for a second season makes a lot of sense.

Plenty of NBA teams got a sneak peek at Dosunmu. About 20 scouts were scattered throughout State Farm Center on Thursday.

They were there mostly to watch Indiana star freshman Romeo Langford. The guard from New Albany, Ind., is the No. 5-ranked prospect, according to CBSsports.com.

Down the list, at No. 55, sits Dosunmu. He is 11th among the point guards.

No. 55 is a draft position best avoided. In the second round, the money wouldn't be guaranteed. Only first-round picks are sure to get paid.

Dosunmu is good enough to be a first-rounder. Just not this year.

If the scouts watching Thursday are honest, they will go back and tell their teams that Dosunmu looked better than Langford. Or at least on par.

Both played 33 minutes. Both scored in double figures while hitting half their shots from the field.

Dosunmu scored 16 points and Langford had 10. Langford won the rebound battle, 6-5. They both had three assists and Dosunmu had one more turnover.

Their season numbers are also similar. They lead their teams in scoring: Langford at 16.6 and Dosunmu at 14.1. Langford shoots better from the field, but Dosunmu is better on threes. The rebound edge goes to Langford, but Dosunmu has more assists and steals.

Short list

Whenever Dosunmu goes pro, he will become the first Illini drafted since the Portland Trail Blazers took Meyers Leonard 11th overall in 2012. That's a seven-year gap between draft picks and counting.

Leonard is the only former Illini currently on an NBA roster. Brandon Paul was with the San Antonio Spurs last season, but was waived and is now playing in China.

By comparison, tiny Creighton (barely 4,000 students), has five former players currently on NBA rosters.

That isn't a concern for Dosunmu today. Dosunmu has at least two more games this season, starting with Sunday's trip to Penn State.

"Right now, I'm just trying to focus on my team and trying to focus on the game against Penn State of course," Dosunmu said. "Trying to keep playing as hard as I can for the rest of the year.

"Just let that stuff (his future) take care of itself."

Depending on the outcome against the Nittany Lions, the Illini will open play in the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday or Thursday.

How is his rookie year going?

"I thought I played well," Dosunmu said. "Of course, I had a lot of ups and downs. I felt like I took the good with the bad. I never got too high, never got too low. I always know what I can do and I always want to play to my abilities."

His teammates have helped him.

"They did a great job taking me under their wings, helping me to become a leader," Dosunmu said. "Some things, I know I can work on."

The season has not gone the way Dosunmu hoped record-wise. The Illini enter the weekend 11-19 overall and 7-12 in the Big Ten. After a four-game winning streak in early February, including an upset against No. 9 Michigan State, Illinois has dropped four of its past five games.

Coach speak

Indiana coach Archie Miller has now seen Dosunmu twice in person. In the earlier game at Bloomington, Dosunmu scored 20 points against the Hoosiers.

Miller has high expectations for Dosunmu.

"Fantastic player," Miller said. "Tremendous speed, length, his three-point shooting has really come on as a freshman. He has great size at his position.

"He's going to be one of the best players in this league for as long as he stays in it."

Illinois coach Brad Underwood has seen Dosunmu for 30 games. And puts him in good company.

"Ayo's had a great year," Underwood said. "He's been as good a freshman as there's been in this league. He's a guy that came in with a big reputation and I think he's more than lived up to that in every facet.

"The fun part for me is I've seen him improve so much. At both ends of the court. Yeah, he's been spectacular this year."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazettte.com.

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